Biscuit Research…

IMG_3028Biscuits, made with soft southern milled flour- hot from the oven, buttered or smothered with preserves or silken gravy, are iconic in the South. Ironically, real homemade biscuits are quickly becoming a lost art. Oh sure, there are attempts to recreate them, but today’s biscuits are more like their distant cousin, the Scone, than authentic homemade Southern Biscuits of our memories. I recently completed Camellia’s Cottage Biscuit Research. It was exhausting– that’s right! I completely exhausted over two dozen folks with questions regarding their memories of Homemade Biscuits! And such good memories they shared! One of my favorites:

‘My grandmother made wonderful biscuits, in a huge dough bowl on legs that she pulled in and out of a small closet, needless to say with 13 children and field hands, she made huge pans of them and cooked them in a wood burning stove. They were breakfast size, about 3 inches across. One of our favorite things used to be trying to figure out how many biscuits Grandmother made in her lifetime since she made them everyday, usually 2-3 times a day.’

Can you imagine? Well, several of my respondents came from very large farm families and indeed the pans of biscuits were almost never ending! When Self Rising Flour began to appear on shelves, it was referred to as Biscuit Flour and was bought in five pound bags or even larger! That alone should tell you just how many biscuits were flying out of wood burning stoves! I personally prefer Self Rising Flour, and usually add even more baking powder- since I do not make biscuits everyday, I keep self rising flour in the freezer so that the leavening powers will remain. The very best biscuit makers I know will tell you that the oven must be screaming hot and the ingredients work better when chilled. So, why are biscuits iconic in the South? A bit of research revealed that Southern Milled Flour is indeed very soft- not braggin’ now, but it’s true. As wonderful as soft flour is for biscuits, shortbread, piecrusts and cakes- soft flour does not bond well with Yeast, therefore southern cooks used leavening agents like baking powder and baking soda for quick breads like Biscuits and Cornbread. Some swore homemade baking powder was best, no darlin’ I’m not telling you how to make it, just sayin’…IMG_3030

You will find more Yeast breads and rolls the farther North you go…perhaps it is the heat and humidity in the Gulf States? But still those Yankees sure can make some wonderful bread! In the South, there are those who swear by using Buttermilk which produces a fluffy biscuit with a distinct tang. Buttermilk biscuits need baking powder and baking soda to rise.  Others swear by sweet milk which is milder in flavor and relies only on baking powder as the leavening agent.

  • A sweet milk biscuit is what is referred to as a ‘powder milk’ biscuit.
  • Some biscuits were made so large they were called Cat Head Biscuits- which refers to size, my grandmother held Cat Head Biscuits in disdain as coarse and common…
  • Hers were quite often very small Tea Biscuits or Breakfast biscuits which are 2 inches, no more than 3 wide.

It must be said, when making biscuits please don’t think you can mix up the dough put it in the refrigerator and bake them off later- no! the dough becomes gummy and tough! There is nothing worse than a tough biscuit- so from the best biscuit makers- Soft Southern Flour resists being kneaded to death– let those Yankees knead their hearts out, down here we make pillowy soft biscuits by gently kneading the dough just until it comes together, either rolling gently or patting, even pulling or pinching the dough. Seasoned Biscuit makers insist on making one swift cut with the biscuit cutter and warn us not to twist the biscuit cutter which will hinder the biscuit as it tries to rise. They also insist that re-rolling the dough scraps will result in the dreaded tough biscuit but I have to admit it is a fun treat to eat the rustic scraps which are baked in a separate pan! Biscuits placed together in the pans will result in a higher softer biscuit. Biscuits which are gently rolled very thin, then folded over as many as four careful times result in those layered delicacies many dream of.   Pulled or pinched biscuits aren’t even rolled at all, a sticky dough is made- then with a gentle pulling motion, a mound of sticky dough is plopped in soft flour then gently shaped. Usually pulled biscuits were placed close together but many who liked their biscuits with a crisper outside placed the dough slightly apart. Because we were ‘soft flour’ proud… biscuits were not browned heavily, but left very light in color on the top and browned lightly on the bottom. Now that I’ve gotten all Historic on you- let me share the results of Camellia’s Cottage Biscuit Research…IMG_3028

  • The majority of the Southern Biscuit Makers used buttermilk
  • Most made breakfast size biscuits
  • Most recalled very hot ovens- up to 450º, best cooked in a Cast Iron Kkillet or heavy Cast Iron tray.
  • The preferred fat was overwhelmingly Lard, which current culinary experts suggest more often because of the texture- however, vegetable shortening was second, preferred over butter in the mixture- Butter is a must for topping a biscuit. One suggested that the biscuits weren’t hot enough if the butter didn’t melt in 30 seconds!
  • It was almost a tie, however pulled or pinched biscuits won out by a small margin over rolled biscuit dough. The biscuits of their youths were thinner and lighter in color than the type now found in fast food restaurants.
  • *Note- Farming and large families were more likely to consume biscuits everyday.
  • In the minority, biscuits were made only with a Sunday meal or at special occasions-
  • Drop Biscuits were made for the evening meal, this is neither a rolled, pinched or pulled biscuit, it is made from a sticky dough usually with other things like cheese added.
  • Even fewer recall anything but a canned biscuit made in their homes and of special note they still love them best- go figure.
  • One respondent noted that a ‘homemade biscuit was never thrown away’.  Consumed every day or on special occasions, the subject of Biscuits always brought forth sweet memories.

Now, why did I launch out on this research project? It was a comment read in a 30 year old History of Southern cooking and recipe book-

‘Biscuit for breakfast is a social and economic self measurement among croppers and hands. Those who always have biscuit for breakfast regard themselves as successful persons of dignity. They pity and look down on the unfortunate who have to go back to corn pone during hard times. The first breakfast at which corn pone is eaten is a sad ceremonial at which…by partaking they admit they have been deserted by their Cap’n and have sunk to te lowest level of human subsistence. A Garth Negro or white cropper would relish corn pone for dinner or supper, but to have had to eat it for breakfast would have broken his spirit…’ William Bradford Huie, Mud on the Stars 1942 quoted in Southern Food– by John Egerton.

Our Southern roots might have sprung up in red clay soil of poverty, but almost everyone admits that the most delightful food anywhere, come from the South. Now, don’t fret…I know these biscuits have you starving to death! I’ll be showing you how to make some homemade biscuits very soon!

Love y’all, Camellia

Summer in Full Bloom…

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‘In a world that values only what is young and green, Summer reminds us that maturity and ripeness were designed to be the biggest prizes. A tomato or a melon is best eaten at it’s peak. A rosebud is lovely but incomplete. A meadow in full bloom is more beautiful than one just beginning to grow. In nature, grown ups are the leading players.’

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A Rose in Full Bloom…

This lovely Summer Sentiment is about more than blooming flower gardens, lush meadows or roadside markets filled with ripe fruits and vegetables;  it is about Life itself. Being a child is wondrous, yet we must admit- Life often saves the best for last… Sunsets blaze with far more beauty than the sweet light of Dawn, being a Grown Up has it’s own rewards; like tomatoes, melons or even begonias… IMG_2727

Aging gracefully as a fragrant full blown Rose- might just be the biggest Prize of all.

Love y’all, Camellia

*the lovely quote is from Martha Stewart magazine- July 1996, author unknown  *photographs are mine, with the exception of the beautiful rose in full bloom- by our own Jeremy Miniard, right here in Alabama

Southern Sweet Potato Salad…

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Recently I attended a Barbeque, most of the side dishes were picnic style- Coleslaw and Classic Potato Salad with Desserts to die for, however one lady who knows how much Southerners love to eat Barbeque with Spicy Greens, Cornbread, Fried Okra, Baby Limas and Sweet Potatoes; brought a wonderful Classic Sweet Potato Casserole with brown sugar, butter and pecans as a thick crunchy topping, oh my! It was wonderful! I started thinking about how good sweet potatoes are with barbeque but also how I had never seen a recipe for Southern Sweet Potato Salad– now, I know recipes are out there but not with completely Southern ingredients! So what you see is rare, here at Camellia’s Cottage, we don’t mess with perfection- we love our classic recipes, we want to preserve the traditions! Yet, I could not stop thinking that a chilled Sweet Potato Salad could be Devised, Concocted or Dreamed Up.  The Pecan Topped Sweet Potato Casserole was my inspiration. (please don’t say – pee-can, we say Pa-cahn)  I began a list of ingredients that are often paired with Sweet Potatoes.

  • My grandmother loved to squeeze fresh Orange juice and a bit of pulp into hot buttered mashed Sweet Potatoes. Then she scooped out and filled the Orange Shells with the Sweet potatoes for a wonderfully fragrant side dish. Citrus is a very Southern ingredient!
  • Of course, Pecans are as Southern as can be.
  • Celery is added to so many Southern Salads, and often include the Tops for crisp crunchy texture.
  • And finally because of our proximity to the Caribbean, Pineapple is often used in Southern  cooking, particularly salads and desserts. in fact it is not unusual to find Pineapple incorporated into a Sweet Potato Casserole.

An idea for a Southern Sweet Potato Salad was Dreamed up, Devised and Concocted.. Southern Sweet Potato Salad

  • Preheat oven to 375º
  • Partially bake or boil one large Sweet Potato. Cut in Cubes, do not peel.
  • Rough chop 1 cup of Pecans.
  • On a parchment lined baking pan, mix cubed Sweet Potato and Pecans.
  • In a small bowl, combine 3 tbs. of Sugar, 1/3 cup of Brown Sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Toss sweet potato and pecans with the sugar mixture.
  • Pour 3/4 cup of melted butter over all and spread in a single layer on parchment- Roast this until sugar mixture has caramelized. About 12 minutes. IMG_2986

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, make the Salad Dressing.

  • Combine the zest and juice of one Lime, 1/3 cup of Orange Marmalade, 1 tablespoon of local Honey, 1/4 teaspoon of Cinnamon, pinch of Cayenne Pepper and 1 teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar. * This is my all purpose Fruit Salad Dressing and is equally good drizzled over seasonal fruits like strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Now, chop one stalk of Celery including Tops. Cut up 3/4 cup or more of fresh Pineapple and 3/4 cup of diced unpeeled Tart Apple. Put Salad Dressing in a large bowl, toss to coat- Celery, Pineapple and Tart Apple. When the Sweet Potatoes and Pecans have roasted, carefully incorporate into the Salad Dressing, Celery, Pineapple. Be sure to include the buttery juices. Southern Sweet Potato Salad is good room temperature or chilled. IMG_2987

Okay y’all, I am going to tell you that my picky Test Taster loved this Southern Sweet Potato Salad with Fried Pork Chops! Now, I will admit this Salad will never reach the heights of glory our Southern Potato Salad has with old and classic recipes. Southern Sweet Potato Salad is certainly unconventional, though it is dependent entirely on Southern Soul Food ingredients, so… it might just end up becoming a new favorite here at Camellia’s Cottage! Let me know if you try it!

Love y’all, Camellia

*The results of our Biscuit Research is forthcoming soon! Stay tuned…

Sinking Spells…

vintage woman on fainting couch

Southern Ladies are known for vague conditions and symptoms, like Sinking Spells. We’re not looking for medical terms or specifics. We prefer eccentric descriptive health conditions like:

  • Having a Come Apart, Being in a Fog, In a Rigor
  • Suffering from the Change of Seasons, a Crying Jag or being absolutely Mortified
  • Wasting Away, Catching a Chill or In a State of Abject Horror
  • Being covered with Chigger Bites, Flustrated, or Working ourselves into a State.

We know the value and consequences of various Fits- Hissy Fits, Conniption Fits, Running Fits and if the situation calls for it- we might even Pitch a Fit. There are vague Nervous Conditions too, which are never labelled with Capital Letters. Nervous conditions are described in more colorful terms:

  • A Basket Case
  • Gone Over a Cliff
  • Being High Strung
  • Falling to Pieces (which made Patsy Cline a major Grand Ol’ Opry Star)
  • Breaking to Bits, Melancholia
  • Flighty, Nervous Ninnies, Having Spots before Our Eyes
  • Having Frayed Nerves with Hair Standing on End
  • Keeling Over (often accompanying an actual Sinking Spell)
  • Being Fragile or one of my favorites- Delicate.

Actually, any Southern Lady who suffers from nervous conditions such as Sinking Spells is not considered weak, oh no- it is proof of Ah-ris-ta- cra-tic Blood lines, Good Breeding, think of Melanie Wilkes here.  Southern ladies who chopped wood and kept the farm running during Wartime, become Fragile– so fragile she might break to bits or fall to pieces in Peacetime. . Some Southern Ladies are High Strung  with an even Higher Temper and subject to Tantrams are prone to being Delicate or having Sinking Spells when necessary, Scarlet.   Really now, what woman, regardless of bloodlines wants to be thought of as a Battle Axe? No, Southern Ladies must be fragile and delicate;  look wan,  pale as a ghost, yellowed with jaundice, so delicate a puff of wind could blow her away, perhaps presenting with Chill Bumps then a Slight Fever.  Give us vague symptoms– certainly not a fever raging so high- hair catches on fire- that’s tacky.  Having competing Visions of the Heavenlies or the Gates of Hell is scandalous.  It’s not ladylike. Eccentric descriptions of vague conditions- a head swimming Sinking Spell are just enough to make Brows Furrow in Concern. This is not to imply we don’t have harsher words for more Serious Southern Conditions- we might say:

‘I was in such a state dealing with that Imbecile, I really should have been Medi-cat-ed but Momma warned me about Dope Fiends. I don’t want to end up like that! No sirree bobtail cat!  I just had to straighten up and be Gracious about the whole thing, so, I took a Minute to regain my Composure.’ 

We must be on guard to always be Gracious and Ah-ris-to-cra-tic with our various and sundry vague health problems! We would never appear in public with trashy conditions like Boils, Blisters, Carbuncles, Ri-sens, Knots or Pock Marks. It is unthinkable to appear Run Down at the Heels or be Prone to Hit the Bottle. Having the Heebie Jeebies or Raisin’ Cain isn’t done in polite company.  Showing Signs of overtly common conditions would send a Southern Lady Over the Cliff. We have long known that most of our vague symptoms and Sinking Spells can be cured with a Spring Tonic made from Wood Violets, Smelling Salts, the restorative Hadacol or a numbing dose of Paregoric. If a Sinking Spell occurs in the daytime, it is permissible to lay down fully clothed on top of a coverlet, but for heaven’s sake- please don’t disrobe and cover up by actually going to bed in broad daylight! It’s alright to put a cool cloth on your feverish brow in a darkened room, just don’t sit staring out into space with a washrag just on your head on the front porch! vintage fainting woman

Now I know you’re wondering- what is a Sinking Spell?

  • It is of unknown origin, ‘I told you when you let yourself get so thick, if you keep wearing those tight clothes you’re gonna start seeing spots before your eyes!’ Tight clothes are thought to be one source of Sinking Spells.
  •  Sinking Spells can be brought on by a Shock to the Nervous System. ‘Maddie Lou called and said, ‘It is with a heavy heart, I tell you the thing we greatly feared has come to pass, our skin has become lined and crepe-y’ 
  • A rise in Humidity and a sharp drop in Barometric Pressure can plague us with a Sinking Spell and a Sick Headache. ‘If this Fawg would just lift!’
  • Right before a Sinking Spell, one might be LeThar-gic (we love the word lethargic!) followed by a Queasy Stomach and Weak Knees. ‘Evah’ time I see Merry Beth in a new outfit, it just gets my goat the way she struts around. You can mark it down on the calendar, the next thing you know, my head’s a-swimming- then I’ll have a Sinking Spell.’ This is typical of a Change of Seasons Sinking Spell, a new outfit is the tonic for it and generally dispels the symptoms.

Sinking Spells are a Southern Ladies secret weapon for getting our own way. Remember, here’s how you do it.  Delicate. Fragile. Vague darlin’, vague… Try having a Sinking Spell if you need a bit of sympathy, feel under the weather, need a lift or a new outfit. Don’t forget to lay in a supply of Pepto-Violet, a Spring Tonic  or a Restor-ative Bottle of Hadacol. You never know when you might need it. Like all good Southern tales, this one is part myth, part outright lies and in this case, mostly true.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Vintage photographs from Bing. Hadacol (20% grain alcohol) and Pepto-Violet are old remedies. Paregoric is no longer available but it was a numbing medication given freely for teething babies or women experiencing Sinking Spells.

A Garden…

IMG_3013‘If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden.’ Frances Hodges’s Burnett – author of the classic children’s book- ‘The Secret Garden’

In my garden, some of the best views can be found behind the scenes. These beauties are almost out of sight… If you look the right way, beauty can be found. I hope you’ll will look for it all around you. Have a blessed day!

Love y’all, CamelliaIMG_3012

White Meat and Gravy…

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White Meat and Gravy. We don’t talk about it very much. It’s hard to explain. Yet, if the tap root on a Southern Family Tree runs deep, no explanation is needed for exactly what is meant by White Meat and Gravy. I realize the name might throw shallow rooted folks, but I do not know of a True Southern Soul who does not love the combination of fried Salt Pork and the drippings made into a Satisfying Gravy. We know what goes with White Meat and Gravy. Just say those four words and it conjures up the whole combination. From the most humble kitchens to the finest homes, true Southerners love the divine food of the impoverished-White Meat and Gravy. Recently, I was checking out at the grocery store; a friend who was headed home from work didn’t even have a buggy- she had a package of Sliced White Meat, a carton of Brown Eggs and big fragrant Cantaloupe. Quite proudly she exclaimed, ‘I’m going home and making us some White Meat and Gravy’. She didn’t have to tell me she was also having Sliced Cantaloupe, Scrambled Eggs and Homemade Biscuits.  I knew it. I wanted some too! I said – ‘Wait a minute, do you make your own biscuits?’ She told me she did. Now, I’ve been on a tear doing an unscientific study of Southern Biscuits. ‘Do you pat, roll or pull the dough?’ She said- ‘I peen-ch ’em’ …Oh lord, I would have gladly gone home with her right then if she’d asked me! IMG_2896

Totally satisfying, that’s what her supper was going to be! I could. not. get. it out of my mind. I had to have White Meat and Gravy! Perfect for any meal really…White Meat is thick sliced and has the Salt Pork Rind still attached, it is so satisfying, almost tangy. The smooth Milk Gravy poured over hot buttered biscuits is perfect with Salt Pork. I don’t always make Scrambled Eggs with it- but it’s the fresh cool Cantaloupe which is amazing alongside.  Here’s what you do:

  • Fry Sliced Salt Pork (White Meat) until crisp and browned. Remove and drain.
  • Stir about 1/2 cup of all purpose flour into the pan drippings to make a loose paste, . Stir until smooth. Add more flour if necessary to absorb most of the drippings. *This is an inexact recipe!
  • Pour at least 1 1/2 cups of whole milk gradually into the paste and stir quickly until the Gravy is smooth, then deeply freckle the Gravy with Black Pepper. *The drippings of White Meat is naturally salty so there is no need to add extra salt.
  • Serve Hot!

I hope it goes without saying-  Fry the White Meat and make the Gravy while Homemade Biscuits are in the oven! *I won’t tell anybody if you use biscuits from the freezer section, just please don’t use canned biscuits!  White Meat and Gravy, Hot Biscuits, Sliced Canteloupe. This is Southern. This is Satisfying. This is Food for the Soul. If you aren’t hungry by now, I cannot help you. It could be a regional thing…I hope not. IMG_3001

*The results of Camellia’s Cottage Biscuit Research is almost finished, if you would like to participate- There are no wrong answers, here are the questions:

  1. Did your mother or grandmother make homemade biscuits?
  2. Did she use all purpose or self rising  flour?
  3. Ice water, sweet milk or buttermilk?
  4.  Butter, shortening or lard?
  5. Did she roll, pat or pull the dough? (Some, like my friend, say ‘pinch’ the dough)
  6. If she rolled the dough did she use a biscuit cutter?
  7. Were they Tea Biscuits, Breakfast Biscuits, Drop Biscuits or Cat Head Biscuits?
  8. Were biscuits made everyday, mostly on the weekends or for special occasions?

I know you are desperate to find out the results! It might surprise you… Here is a warning…the tap root on your Southern Family Tree needs to be fairly deep to fully participate. While you’re at it, make some biscuits, if you dare…try White Meat and Gravy, you’ll be glad you did.

Love y’all, Camellia

*photographs of the delectable White Meat and Gravy are mine. Vintage Photograph is from an old set of children’s encyclopedias called ‘The New Wonder World’ published in the early 1940’s.

Swap Shop! You’re on the Air!

If you can find a local radio station on your road trips this summer, please tune in.. I just had to share this one with you again!

Camellia's Cottage

We’ve been travelling in the month of May! On road trips, I amuse myself by looking out the window and commenting on the sights. My husband adjusts the radio depending on what he wants to hear of my commentary. This  road trip, back home from Orange Beach, I asked him to turn up the radio volume on a Swap Shop broadcast. The reception wasn’t that great- but the enthusiasm of the female broadcaster made up for it. Rural radio stations have been known to be attached to a private home- As far as I know she could have been in her slippers with curlers in her hair- broadcasting live…


‘Well, Good Morning everybody, Bennie and I are broadcasting from Atmore, Alabama! It sure has been a downpour this morning, hope you’re stayin’ dry -take an umbrella with you if you get out in this! Ok, let’s get started – first we’d like to…

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